Playing around is serious business

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Kid's have fun on the inclusive playground at St Mark's Primary School in Drummoyne. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Kid’s have fun on the inclusive playground at St Mark’s Primary School in Drummoyne. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Losing Olivia changed the Perkins’ lives forever, but with tragedy came new meaning and a chance to ease the lives of other children and families in times of need.

At 8-months-of-age little Olivia became unwell and just two weeks later the unthinkable happened.

What was initially diagnosed as croup, then asthma, turned to something much more serious.

The doctors explained that although there was no sign of ill health prior to the sudden onset of a cough and laboured breathing – Olivia was born with a disease called Lymphangioma which is a tumour of the lymphatic system.

Although other similar cases had good endings, Olivia didn’t pull through, and her parents left hospital without their daughter on 20 November 2006 and began the long process of grieving the loss of their little girl.

Yet out of that grief came the Touched By Olivia Foundation, with the purpose of aiding children, focussing on those with disabilities.

In her short life, Olivia touched many hearts, and through the foundation she has continued to change the lives of those who her legacy impacts.

Touched By Olivia aims to create healthier and happier lives for children by creating inclusive playgrounds for everyone by collaborating and partnering with councils, developers and local community groups.

Justine Perkin's at St Mark's Primary School in Drummoyne. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Justine Perkin’s at St Mark’s Primary School in Drummoyne. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Today there are more than 40 inclusive play spaces around Australia with one very special playground at St Mark’s Primary School at Drummoyne where Olivia’s siblings have all attended school.

The foundation’s logo, a pink butterfly, stands for Olivia’s touch … the butterfly is a symbol of new life, and the wings are actually Olivia’s hand prints; symbolising her touch being extended out to the many thousands of people that will benefit from their work.

Olivia’s mum Justine said the foundation was set up not only as a memorial to Olivia but for all kids to experience the sheer joy of play.

She said the foundation aims to promote inclusivity through play and set the standard for playgrounds across the country.

“The night Olivia died, I knew we were going to create playgrounds – but not just any playgrounds, playgrounds where all children, regardless of ability, could play,” she said.

“I knew it because it was the only thing that made sense. It was a way to draw upon not only my curiosity but also upon the people who had touched me along the way.

“The people whose children live their lives in and out of hospital, their siblings who sit and wait for their brother or sister to get better, their families who can’t remember the last time they saw their child smile through the sheer joy of unbridled play. It was the right thing to do.

“It is through play that children and young people learn to socialise, negotiate risk, challenge themselves, make friends, develop their imaginations and learn to make decisions.

Baby Olivia Perkins.
Baby Olivia Perkins.

“The foundation has been fundamental to our healing process, as it has brought some meaning out of something totally tragic. During her short life, Olivia touched the hearts of those that knew her, and in her passing, we hope to extend Olivia’s touch to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands who never had the opportunity to meet her.”

One of the foundation’s proudest achievements has been the release of the Everyone Can Play Guidelines by the NSW Government.

Previously, the Australian Government provided Touched by Olivia with funding to develop a best practice guide to creating an inclusive playspace.

They worked with some of the best and most experienced landscape designers, academics, and advocacy organisations to create a simple document that outlines what makes a play space inclusive and last year the NSW state government released its own guildlines.

“Having the Everyone Can Play Guidelines officially formulated was momentous and symbolizes everything we have worked for, as it formalizes a framework for playgrounds that all state constituents can now reference and implement,” Justine said.

“Everything we have done is to promote inclusion across the state and provide the tools for designers to create play spaces that are equitable, enjoyable, fun and equal.

“Our story is a positive one. Strangely it was always my dream that Touched by Olivia would become redundant because people, organisations, businesses, over time would just do the right thing signalling that our work would be done however that’s not the case.

“Now it’s onto the other states and territories to follow suit!”

To find out more about inclusive play spaces go to http://touchedbyolivia.com.au/